The Unpopular Guide to Happy Offices in 2020

This article first appeared in Capital, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 9, 2019 - December 15, 2019.
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Having happy employees who feel valued is key for any organisation. As Malaysian salaries are projected to grow by only 5% in 2020 (according to consulting firm Mercer), non-financial measures are increasingly critical to keeping employees contented.

Another dimension is to ensure a harmonious workplace where employees get along well with each other. Happy people, cohesive team, productive business, big profits!

So, here are four simple tips to ensure the harmony in your office is not unduly disrupted next year. Be warned that if any of these hypothetical examples happen, it may force you to give out big raises as compensation, which may wipe out your bottom line.


1. Don’t overcommit to their professional development

For many of your best talents, what matters most will not necessarily be the salary or the job perks, but the professional development path that the company offers them. This is how you attract the most driven and dedicated employees despite many other opportunities available to them.

However, as your employee rises, be careful about affirming future elevation up the ladder as this may inadvertently enable misconduct.

For example, a hypothetical manager who expects promotion to procurement manager may feel less inhibited to behave inappropriately towards other employees who report to him or her.


2. Keep work in the office

In an era of constant connectivity, colleagues no longer need to be in the same room, or even country, to communicate and coordinate important work. Studies show that people are more productive and happier when given the flexibility of working from home, even if only for some of the time.

However, when face-to-face meetings are required for two employees and one (or both) is at home, there is a risk that the out-of-office setting may enable one party to make inappropriate advances towards the other.

For example, if said hypothetical manager meets a subordinate in an allocated working space at home such as a private library, the absence of other colleagues may compromise the motivation to maintain all interactions on a strictly professional and non-physical basis.


3. Occupational safety and health

Sometimes, it may not be possible to confine all work strictly to the office and working remotely may be a necessity for key employees or reporting managers. In fact, some employees may resent a policy against working remotely if competing workplaces offer this option.

However, out-of-office working spaces heightens risks in general with regard to employees’ well-being and the company’s liabilities in the event of injury or other forms of distress that happen during working hours.

For example, the hypothetical manager’s working space at home, such as the private library, may house basic working furniture such as a work desk and book racks. However, these may not conform to the company’s occupational safety standards, while additional furnishings such as a massage table may compromise productivity levels and encourage physically inappropriate use of company time.


4. Keep autonomy on a short leash

Nobody likes having another person (who is not a sexual partner) breathing down their necks — or being in close proximity to their neck in any other context, for that matter. Less hand-holding fosters trust and empowerment, which may inspire your employee to perform better.

However, too much autonomy may pose unnecessary risks to the organisation as reporting managers given to much leeway may inadvertently issue instructions that are beyond another employee’s job scope or even against the company’s interests.

For example, a friendly request for non-work-related favours by a reporting manager, such as the hypothetical manager, may be construed as an order by a direct subordinate. This may cause undue distress on the subordinate’s part and compromise work performance in other areas.

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